I cringe when I recall how I used to talk to my kids when I was a young mother. I didn’t realize then how critical I was. I wish I could go back and do it differently. If you are still raising your children you can do a better job. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
1. Why do you criticize? If you are like I was, you are attempting to get the kids to do better your way. Since kids are pretty good most of the time rather than focus on what they do right, we tend to focus on their mistakes. The kids might think or even say: “Leave me alone” Or “Don’t you see the good things I do?” Let’s try to focus more on our kids’ good qualities and let go of fault-finding.
2. Does criticizing make you feel better? When we become frustrated or irritated we might get relief by taking it out on our kids by criticizing or blaming. Criticism is always destructive. Before we realize it our kids can inherit our negative attitude. I became distressed watching my sensitive son become an angry, critical adult.
3. What is the message of Criticism? Young children see their parents as all knowing and take what they say as truth. Children do not filter out the good from the bad, like a recorder in their brain they store it all. Many parents are not aware of the intense damage they do when they humiliate, put down, belittle, ridicule, or criticize their children. They think: “If mom or dad thinks I am clumsy, dumb, stupid, lazy, etc. then it must be true. Kids get the unconscious message that they are not OK.
4. What are the effects of criticism? Often the words spoken to us as a child become the thinking we have about ourselves as adults. When we criticize it damages a child’s self-worth and confidence. It discourages and creates a fear of trying new things. Regular criticism eventually leaves children feeling turned off to their parents. Every child needs love and acceptance. When these important needs are not provided for, children can end up feeling frustrated, angry, worthless, unloved and undeserving. They may become overly fearful of criticism. As adults they can become angry and critical like my son did. Or they may learn to develop a high tolerance for criticism thus making it easier to get into abusive relationships.
5. What if the criticisms are true? We are not justified saying something just because it is true. Not all truth is uplifting and supportive. Some truth can be destructive and harmful, and we are not wise to say it: “Mary, your hair looks terrible.” “Your mistake is why the team lost.” Please do not think that it is OK to say something because it might be true.
6. How can I tell my kids when they are doing wrong? We have a duty to correct our children. Correction is necessary, but it is not to be done in a critical manner. If you are angry with your child try to deal with the problem when you are calmer. Say, “I’ll talk to you after dinner, see if you can come up with some solutions we can discuss.” If it cannot wait, explain why you are upset and tell your child what you want and you will explain later.
7. How do I reason with my kids?
A child two to six years old cannot think logically through a problem and then reverse the logic. For example, a tall glass of water that is poured into a shallow bowl is not seen as the same amount of water. A young child cannot understand that a parent can be angry and love them also. They cannot mentally hold two concepts at the same time. They split off from the loving parent while remaining with the angry parent. Seven to ten year olds can reason and understand why you are angry, but still need reassurance that you are correcting them because you love them, and want them behaving in a safe, kind, respectful, and responsible way.
8. How do I keep from getting angry? Try to talk to your kids like you would talk to your good neighbor. Would you yell at your neighbor: “Why did you leave that rake out in your driveway? Put that rake away right now before I have to punish you!” But this is how we talk to our kids. I don’t think it would work with our neighbor and it won’t work with our kids either.
More importantly, we must remember not to say or do anything while we are correcting our children that will hinder our relationship with them. Our interaction with our kids needs to draw us closer, so we can motivate them for the change needed. Say, “In the Smith family we do not steal.” “How do you think we can fix this problem?” When you speak to them like this:
• You are being sensitive to your child’s feelings.
• You are focusing on the behavior, not criticizing or blaming your child.
• You are providing a way of working through the problem with your child.
• You are giving your child experience correcting his mistakes.
• You are building trust and relationship with your child.
Once you work through a problem you forgive and forget, praise the efforts and celebrate the accomplishment.
In closing, as parents we need to look for the good in our kids. If we can focus on “catching our kids doing good” we will see more of the mentioned behavior repeated. Encouragement and appreciation is a wonderful alternative to criticism and it is better for everyone in the whole family.
Resources: Dr. James Jones, American Parenting Institute, Shirley King, Parent News, Jim Fay, Cline/Fay Institute.